The amendments that fall under this question aim to improve municipal accountability, transparency, and viability, as well as re-frame the relationship between municipalities and the Province.

After hearing from Albertans about how this is important, we developed these MGA amendments to support how municipalities are empowered to govern.

Refocusing the Provincial-Municipal Relationship

Preamble for the Municipal Government Act

What’s currently in place: A preamble is an introductory statement used to explain the purpose of a document, set context and describe relationships. The MGA currently does not contain a preamble, but does describe the purpose of municipalities in Alberta.

What we heard: Municipalities have requested a formal acknowledgment of their role in providing services to Albertans. Municipalities have asked the province to approach interactions with municipalities in the spirit of collaboration and partnership to ensure their respective roles and responsibilities are understood.

What’s changing: A preamble will be incorporated into the MGA to describe the role of municipalities in relation to the Province of Alberta, their varying interests and capacity levels, and the importance of working together to advance the interests of all Albertans.

When this takes effect: Upon proclamation of the Modernized Municipal Government Act.

Municipally Controlled For-Profit Corporations

What’s currently in place: Municipally controlled for-profit corporations are private corporations where a municipality or group of municipalities hold a majority of the shares. Although municipalities maintain the controlling interest in these corporations, day-to-day operations occur at arm’s length. Epcor, Enmax and Aquatera in Grande Prairie are all municipally controlled corporations.

Currently, municipalities submit applications to establish new municipally controlled corporations to the Minister of Municipal Affairs for review and approval.

What we heard: Municipalities are seeking greater flexibility and autonomy to establish municipally controlled corporations. Members of the public, as well as business and industry, have asked for stronger measures to ensure accountability and transparency regarding the establishment and operation of these corporations.

What’s changing: Municipalities will be able to establish these for-profit corporations without the requirement for ministerial approval. New procedural and consultative requirements focused on accountability and transparency will be put in place to ensure the public has a meaningful opportunity to review new proposals for the corporations, and to provide input before final decisions are made.

When this takes effect: Upon proclamation of the Modernized Municipal Government Act and the development of the related regulation by fall 2017.

Regulatory expiries

What’s currently in place: The MGA includes a provision (s. 603) that allows for regulations to be created by Cabinet for any matter that is not sufficiently addressed or provided for in the Act. These regulations, unless renewed, expire two years after adoption, after which the policy is meant to be addressed within the MGA. A number of regulations have been created under this provision, each of which has been renewed a number of times past the intended two-year expiry timeframe.

What we heard: These policies have been in place for many years, as far back as 2003. Finding permanent places in legislation or regulation is important to provide predictability and certainty.

What’s changing: Existing policy, found in the following regulations, will be incorporated into the MGA or through new regulations established under new specific regulation-making authorities:

  • SuperNet Assessment Regulation
  • Municipally Controlled Corporation Regulations:
    • Alberta Central East Water Corporation Regulation
    • Aquatera Utilities Inc. Regulation
    • Aqueduct Utilities Regulation
    • Chestermere Utilities Inc. Regulation
    • NEW water Ltd. Regulation
    • Newell Regional Services Corporation Regulation
    • Peace Regional Waste Management Company Regulation
    • Sheep Creek Regional Utility Corporation Regulation
  • Municipal Finance Clarification Regulation
  • Business Tax Exemption (Legislative Office) Regulation
  • Local Improvement (Road) Tax Bylaw Regulation
  • Aeronautics Act Agreements (City of Medicine Hat and Cypress County) Regulation

When this takes effect: Upon proclamation of the Municipal Government Amendment Act.

Enhancing Municipal Accountability and Transparency

Municipal Ombudsman and Municipal Inspections

What’s currently in place: The MGA provides a high degree of municipal autonomy, and largely leaves enforcement of the legislation at the local level through the courts. Municipalities are primarily accountable to their citizens through election and public participation processes. In certain circumstances, the Minister may step in. The province helps to protect the public interest and ensure that municipal actions and decisions are administered fairly through requirements in the MGA. Currently, citizens can petition the Minister for an audit or an inquiry, but not for an inspection.

What’s the issue: Albertans often call on the Minister of Municipal Affairs to get involved when they feel they have not been treated fairly by a municipality, or when they believe a municipality is not following rules. While the Minister has a role to play in some cases, many cases would be better investigated by an impartial party, such as the Alberta Ombudsman. Currently, the ombudsman’s authority only extends over the provincial government and certain professional organizations.

What we heard: Albertans suggested the current system does not always hold councils accountable between elections. They also indicated it can be confusing to petition the Minister to act on public concerns. Pursuing the matter through court can be too expensive for many citizens or businesses.

What’s changing: The mandate of the Alberta Ombudsman will be expanded to include municipalities. The MGA will also be amended to clarify petitioning processes for municipal inspections.

What this means: The Alberta Ombudsman will objectively investigate complaints to determine if a public organization has acted fairly and reasonably. The ombudsman will review the case to ensure actions and decisions were fair and consistent with relevant legislation, policies and procedures. Other changes to the MGA’s provisions on inspection and inquiry will mean citizens can petition the Minister for an audit or inspection on matters of municipal affairs, including the conduct of councillors, employees, agents and contractors of the municipality.

What’s next: Municipal audits, inspections and inquiries will continue under the current system until the legislative amendments are in effect. Cases partly underway will not be affected. Municipal Affairs is working with the Office of the Alberta Ombudsman to make sure its expanded mandate receives adequate supports.

When this takes effect: The re-structured petitioning provisions for municipal audits and inspections will be proclaimed by October 1, 2017. The Alberta Ombudsman is projected to accept municipal complaints starting April 1, 2018.

Composition on Local Appeal Boards, and Reporting Structure of the Municipal Government Board

What’s currently in place: Under the MGA, municipal councillors and public members may sit on municipal appeal boards. Councillors, who may approve projects while in their elected roles, may also sit on appeal boards ruling on those decisions because it can be difficult to recruit, train and retain public members to those positions, especially in smaller municipalities where appeals can be infrequent. Rules about the number of councillors who may sit on a board also differ between Assessment Review Boards and Subdivision and Development Appeal Boards. The MGA designates the Deputy Minister of Municipal Affairs as the chair of the Municipal Government Board, although that authority may be delegated.

What we heard: Albertans expressed an overall desire for municipal appeal boards and the Municipal Government Board to be free from bias and conflict of interest to ensure decisions are made fairly.

What’s changing: Municipal councillors will be prohibited from forming the majority of any legislated appeal board hearing panel. This will be done by aligning the existing rules for Subdivision and Development Appeal Boards with those for Assessment Review Boards. The Chair of the Municipal Government Board will be appointed by Cabinet and report directly to the Minister of Municipal Affairs

When this takes effect: Upon proclamation of the Modernized Municipal Government Act.

Public Participation Policy

What’s currently in place: The MGA doesn’t require municipalities to demonstrate how they will conduct public participation. Municipalities determine their own public participation practices using required mechanisms such as open meetings, petitions, and notices.

What we heard: Albertans have indicated there is a lack of clarity around the scope of municipalities’ responsibility to engage with their constituents. Due to the existing flexibility of public participation provisions in the MGA, municipal public participation is inconsistent across the province.

What’s changing: Require municipalities to adopt public participation policies that outline their approaches for engaging with stakeholders. Municipalities continue to have the flexibility to determine their approach to public participation, and the new public participation policy helps citizens and stakeholders see how they will be engaged.

When this takes effect: Upon development of the related regulation by fall 2017.

Conduct of Elected Officials

What’s currently in place: The use of codes of a conduct is voluntary. Councillor accountability and conduct is addressed through the election process, boards, the courts, or Ministerial directives.

What we heard: Albertans have indicated a desire to hold their councillors more accountable for their actions. Elections help to hold municipal councils accountable, but this may not appropriately address immediate or urgent issues when it comes to the conduct of individual councillors.

What’s changing: Require all municipalities to develop and adopt codes of conduct that:

  • meet standards established in an MGA regulation (to be developed);
  • address enforcement and administrative procedures at the municipal level; and
  • do not allow councils to remove councillors from office.

When this takes effect: Upon development of the related regulation by fall 2017.

Council Meetings

What’s currently in place: There is no definition of council “meeting” in the MGA. Councils must hold meetings in public, unless the purpose is to discuss matters under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) Act.

What we heard: Albertans have expressed concerns over the proper use of closed meetings. Municipalities have expressed an interest in specifying what constitutes a council meeting. Clear definitions will support transparency in council deliberations.

What’s changing: Define “meeting” to include what matters may be closed to the public during council meetings. Describe circumstances and procedures for a “closed meeting.” Clarify a duty of the chief administrative officer to provide all councillors the same information, no matter how it was requested or by whom.

When this takes effect: Upon development of the related regulation by fall 2017.

Petitions

What’s currently in place: Petition sufficiency requires a percentage of eligible signatories, time limits for completion and several other submission and verification factors.

What we heard: Albertans noted that existing petition requirements make it very difficult for the public to successfully petition a municipality. Municipalities have indicated the timelines to validate petitions are challenging.

What’s changing: Municipalities may, by bylaw, choose to decrease the required percentage of eligible signatories, accept online petitions, extend the time period for collecting signatures and allow petitioners to recall their signatures. Timelines would be extended for petition validation.

When this takes effect: Upon proclamation of the Municipal Government Amendment Act.

Enabling More Efficient Municipal Operations

Public Notification Methods

What’s currently in place: The MGA requires traditional communication methods, such as mail or newspapers, to notify the public.

What we heard: Albertans have observed that traditional notification methods may no longer be as effective in communicating with the public due to increasing costs and limited accessibility in smaller communities. Municipalities have requested flexibility on notification methods to allow for current and future technologies.

What’s changing: Add posting notifications to municipal websites to general advertising requirements, and empower municipalities with flexibility to pass a bylaw specifying how they will notify the public. Certain municipal matters will continue to require public notification in legislation, such as those related to bylaws and taxation, but municipalities will have more flexibility to determine the methods they use to notify the public. This change will likely include, for the first time, the use of electronic methods of notification.

When this takes effect: Upon proclamation of the Municipal Government Amendment Act.

Council and Administration Roles and Responsibilities

What’s currently in place: The MGA sets out the responsibilities for council and administration. The chief administrative officer (CAO) is the administrative head of the municipality, and the MGA lists numerous administrative responsibilities for the CAO.

What we heard: Municipalities have asked for flexibility to clarify administrative duties and the chief administrative officer’s ability to delegate, in order for municipalities to consider local circumstances. It is important for the separation between council and administration to be maintained.

What’s changing: Provide clarity on the administrative duties and the chief administrative officer’s ability to delegate.

When this takes effect: Upon proclamation of the Municipal Government Amendment Act.

Strengthening Municipal Capacity and Viability

Elected Official Training

What’s currently in place: Currently, the MGA does not require municipalities to offer training and orientation sessions to newly elected councillors following a municipal election.
What we heard: Albertans have expressed concern about the ability of elected officials (especially new ones) to do their jobs without thoroughly understanding their roles and what is expected of them.

What’s changing: Municipalities will be required to offer orientation training within 90 days to elected officials following each municipal election and by-elections on specific matters such as: role of municipalities in Alberta; council and councillor roles and responsibilities; Chief Administrative Officer and staff roles and responsibilities; and budgeting and financial administration.

When this takes effect: Upon proclamation of the Modernized Municipal Government Act.

Corporate Planning

What’s currently in place: Municipalities are required to adopt annual operating and capital budgets, but all other long-term financial planning is voluntary.

What we heard: Albertans and municipalities have suggested there is a need for longer-term planning to address the full impact of present day financial decisions.

What’s changing: Require municipalities to adopt, at minimum, three-year operating plans and five-year capital plans, so Albertans have greater access to information about municipal financial decisions.

When this takes effect: Upon development of the related regulation by fall 2017.

Voluntary Amalgamations

What’s currently in place: The MGA enables a municipality to give written notice to one or more municipal authorities with which it proposes to amalgamate. The Minister may also initiate a municipal amalgamation. Amalgamation is one of many options that municipalities may consider to proactively address their long-term viability.

What we heard: Municipalities feel the current amalgamation process is lengthy and does not encourage a cooperative approach. Summer villages have advocated that they be able to retain their summer village status during amalgamation.

What’s changing: Allow for a streamlined voluntary amalgamation process. Summer villages with non-contiguous boundaries may amalgamate if they share a common body of water, and retain their status as a summer village.

When this takes effect: Upon development of the related regulation by fall 2017.